Julio Jones has been one of the best wide receivers in the NFL for a decade. With a need for a top target, the New England Patriots need to pull the trigger
Have you ever looked at a Ferrari and said, “No thanks”?
Of course not. A Ferrari is built to be marveled at. The speed. The power and the way it can dominate a road. Even if it’s not reasonable, the second you see it, you want it.
(Side note: I’ve gone way too far down the Formula One: Drive to Survive rabbit hole.)
For the last decade, Julio Jones has been the Ferrari of the National Football League. When he’s on the field, his presence dominates. He can beat you on a screen pass, go route, coming across the middle. He’s everything you want in a wide receiver and then some. In Super Bowl LI, the New England Patriots saw just how devastating he could be.
With rumors swirling about the Atlanta Falcons wanting to move on from Jones for salary cap purposes, teams have begun lining up for his services. One team rumored to be in the market for the former Pro Bowl player is the New England Patriots. The Patriots have had their fair share of struggles at the position over the last few years, to put it mildly.
With just four receivers hitting the pedestrian 100-yard mark last season (two of which are no longer on the team), the Patriots are still in desperate need of a top target. With the market for wide receivers dry, the New England Patriots should do what they can to get Julio Jones.
The market for the 32-year-old wide receiver
According to a study done by Pro Football Focus, wide receivers typically peak around 26 or 27. After that, it’s typically a gradual decline until 34, then a sharp decline around 35-years-old. Jones had his two best seasons at 27 and 29 before having a slight dip in numbers in 2020. Last season was particularly difficult for Jones, who battled a hamstring injury and missed six games.
Before last year, Jones had hardly missed any games. Since 2014, he hadn’t missed more than two games in any season until last year. He was also a Pro Bowler each year during that span for good measure. Even with the injury, Jones’ advanced numbers didn’t dip a whole lot when he was on the field. Jones was still in the top 50 in first downs despite missing nearly half of the season and also was top 15 in QB rating when targeted. His average depth of target and yards before catch per reception were still relatively the same, meaning he can still get downfield.
Assuming his hamstring injuries are behind him, Jones would slot in nicely on the Patriots. The team has been lacking a No. 1 option since Rob Gronkowski‘s retirement and it was prevalent last year that they were missing a go-to player. Even with the bevy of offseason moves made, that role is still in question. Jones would be the player that could unlock the new tight ends and also offer more space over the middle of the field for Jakobi Meyers.
Is the cost worth it?
Given his salary cap number and Jones’ age, the thought is Jones will go for at least a second-round pick and maybe more. The Athletic’s Jeff Howe suggested an offer of a conditional third-round pick and N’Keal Harry for Jones, but the Patriots should be willing to go even further.
Looking at previous examples, including Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Joey Galloway and Keyshawn Johnson, wide receivers changing teams at 30 typically still produce. The Patriots had the first-hand experience with Moss, who set a record for touchdowns in his first year in Foxboro. While he doesn’t have Tom Brady throwing to him, Jones should be able to continue his production in 2021 and beyond.
The drop-off at the position is usually around 35, which would give Jones three years to work with Cam Newton and future starter Mac Jones before any expected decline. Given Jones’s athletic abilities, he could extend that even further.
The Patriots have each of their picks in the first four rounds of the next three years, so offering a second, Harry and sweetening the deal with something else could be enough for Atlanta to pull the trigger.
The choice is simple. Robert Kraft spoke about how this offseason was an opportunity for the Patriots to take advantage of the cap space issues and the competition for players being lower than normal. They have fans believing this philosophy could create a quick rebuild and saw a huge investment in free agency.
If now is the time to buy, then it’s time to prove it. The price of Ferrari doesn’t matter. You just go get it.
Photo: (Steven Senne — AP Photo)
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